Michael Kiwanuka with Bahamas and Yuna
Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
September 28, 2012
A series of burgeoning musical stars showcased their talents at a packed Fine Line on Friday night, as current Mercury Music Prize nominee Michael Kiwanuka, Bahamas, and Yuna all delivered engaging, vibrant sets which delivered on both the promise suggested by their recorded work and the high levels of anticipation of the fans who crowded into the club. While the gifted Kiwanuka was clearly the star of the night, and the artist whom most of the audience was there to see, Toronto's Bahamas also turned in a soulful opening performance of his own which set the mood perfectly for the headliners.
Michael Kiwanuka brings back soul
Bahamas is the moniker of Afie Jurvanen, who brought along a drummer (Jason Tate) and two female vocalists (Felicity Williams and Carleigh Aikins) to compliment his rich vocals and deft guitar work throughout his stirring but all-too-brief 35-minute set. Drawing mainly from his excellent recent record, Barchords, Jurvanen proved to be a jovial frontman as well as a charming entertainer, singing some of his between song banter while also playfully calling out those who were prattling on during his songs. "It's a bit ironic that when I get quiet, you all stop talking. I've got all the power here, I've figured that part out."
But it was his stark songs and impassioned delivery which spoke the loudest throughout the set, as lively opener "Lost In The Light" and "Already Yours" both soared in the intimate club. Williams and Aikins added Dirty Projectors-like vocal flourishes to the bluesy, assertive swing of "I Got You Babe," while current single "Caught Me Thinking" was given a retro, do-wop vibe by the tight group. "Okay, Alright, I'm Alive" was bouncy and buoyant, but Jurvanen slowed things down a bit with the somber, plaintive plea of "Be My Witness," but the set lost none of its momentum with the tempo change.
The jocular "Hockey Teeth" certainly found a receptive audience here in Minnesota, with Jurvanen saying the song was about "the time I tried to kiss a pretty girl and I screwed it all up." The band brought their set to an end with a smoldering version of "Never Again," which Jurvanen dedicating the song to Clayton, a fan who was in the front row at their last show at the Bryant Lake Bowl, which drew a hearty roar from the fans. But Jurvanen knew that this larger audience was mostly new to his live show, saying "only a few of you people could even fit in that place." Though with a performance as enthralling as this one, Bahamas next local show is bound to draw an even bigger crowd as Jurvanen's profile continues to rise.
And that surely will also be the case for Michael Kiwanuka, as the affable, 24-year-old singer/songwriter from Muswell Hill in London made his first Minneapolis performance a memorable one, delivering an impassioned, soulful 75-minute set that easily won over the packed room. Kiwanuka, who alternated between an electric and acoustic guitar throughout the set, was backed by a deft five-piece band featuring Miles James on guitar, Steve Pringle on keys/Wurlitzer, Pete Randall on bass, Lewis Wright on drums and Graham Godfrey on added percussion. All the rich instrumentation added up to a striking debut from Kiwanuka which will hopeful be the first of many in town.
The set started with a somewhat tentative version of "I'll Get Along," which allowed for the band to get a feel for the room and the audience. But it wasn't until a rousing, keyboard laden rendition of "Tell Me A Tale" before the band truly caught fire. The spiritual number featured a funky extended outro that perhaps dragged on a bit too long and bordered on Doors-like jam band territory, but still got the band and the crowd swinging and into it.
A fervent run through of "Worry Walks Beside Me" featured a stripped-down acoustic start which really highlighted Kiwanuka's rich, sonorous voice before James took the song home with his smooth electric guitar work. After a bluesy take on "Bones," Kiwanuka took a moment to mention how special it was for him to be playing here: "This is my first time in Minneapolis, and it's a bit like holy ground because there's so many great musicians from Minnesota."He went on to mention that one of his biggest influences growing up was Jimi Hendrix, and one of the small ways he can honor him is by covering a song of his during his live show. Kiwanuka then did Jimi plenty proud with a dreamy, simmering version of "May This Be Love," which found sweat pouring off of Michael's beard as he soloed away, entirely lost in the pensive spirit of the song. A hymn-like "I'm Getting Ready" kept the strong momentum going, before the young musician gave us a taste of what his songs sounded like when he first wrote them. "Rest" featured just Michael on acoustic guitar and Randall on bass, and the pared-down version really suited the lovely, genuine sentiment of the song (even though an obnoxious portion of the crowd refused to quiet down and listen to the hushed number).
A tranquil version of the title-track to Kiwanuka's acclaimed debut record, Home Again, and the muted intro to "If You'd Dare" caused the second half of the set to become a bit sleepy, before a rousing jam at the end of "Dare" gave the performance the much-needed jolt it needed, while also highlighting the boundless talents of the band.
Kiwanuka then announced that the next number would be the last song of the set, which drew a few complaints, to which he confidently replied, "I've got to write some more music, then I'll play a lot longer next time." A vibrant cover of Bill Withers' "I Don't Know" turned into a stirring crowd singalong, with the band ending the song with a downright funky finish.
Wright and Godfrey took to the stage alone at the start of the encore, laying down a bongo-laden beat that the rest of the band slowly joined in on as "I Need Your Company" slowly took shape. There were hints of Marvin Gaye threaded throughout both the soulful song structure and Kiwanuka's uplifting vocal delivery, and the luxurious number soared as the set came to a close. Michael Kiwanuka proved on Friday night that he has the talent and unique musical vision to justify the hype that surrounds him, and his stirring live show ensured that his star is only on the rise on this side of the pond.
Personal Bias: I came into this show with a relatively clean slate, having never seen any of the performers live and being only somewhat familiar with their recorded work. I left the show a decided fan of them all.
The Crowd: A mix of those UK music fans who are always willing to check out a Mercury Music Prize nominee, fans of the Current and Cities 97 who found Kiwanuka through airplay of his single, and talkative, boorish clowns who clearly weren't there for the music.
Overheard In The Crowd: A seeming endless, annoying stream of chatter from certain portions of the audience.
Random Notebook Dump: I don't know why this type of mellow, easygoing music consistently brings out the worst crowds in the city, but don't these people realize that you have to stop talking in order to listen?
I'll Get Along
Tell Me A Tale
Worry Walks Beside Me
May This Be Love (Jimi Hendrix)
I'm Getting Ready
If You'd Dare
I Don't Know
I Need Your Company (Encore)
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